Court order on women’s voting rights in Dorbar to spark debate

SHILLONG: The order of the High Court of Meghalaya on Friday to enable all adult voters, irrespective of gender, to take part in the election for traditional heads has given scope for active participation of women in Dorbar. The division bench comprising chief justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice SR Sen wanted all adult male and female to take part in the election.
However, the contention of the petitioner who was removed as Sordar Shnat Raid Tynring for not holding regular Dorbar was that as per the customary practice, only males who had attained 18 years of age or above could participate in the Dorbar for voting. Females were not entitled to vote.
Secondly, it was projected that the KHADC and others had not followed the customary practice, therefore, have illegally removed him as Sordar Shnat Raid Tynring in 2017.
However, the court said adult members of the clan irrespective of any gender are eligible to elect a headman and the same position is supported by Sub-section (1), (6) and (8) of Section 2 of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headmen) Rules, 2015.
“Sub-section (6) clearly envisages that inhabitants who have attained the age of 18 years have the right to attend the Dorbar, there is no question of male and female, all persons above the age of 18 years can participate. Now to claim that there is a custom providing the right to vote only to male is not in anywhere established nor any such custom can be in consonance with good conscience or public policy. How can adult female be deprived of the right to vote in the electoral process governing the election of a Sordar,” the court said.
Social activist and TUR member Angela Rangad, while welcoming the order, said women should be allowed to fully participate in any decision-making body, be it at the local or the state level.
She also said women apart from being given the right to elect should also be given the right to be elected at any elections at any level which would make the democracy stronger.
Senior lawyer VGK Kynta, who represented both men and women of Shnat Raid Tynring, said the judicial pronouncement of the High Court regarding participation of women in Dorbar “is loud and clear and will have cascading effect on every nook and corner of the hills of Khasi and Jaintia”.
Though the order is relating to issues concerning administration of Shnat Raid Tyngring under Khyrim Syiemship and election of its Sordar, its findings cannot be ignored by various stakeholders.
“Debate is forthcoming and stakeholders will argue that this finding is restricted to areas where the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of chiefs & Headmen) Act, 1959, and Rules 2015 made there under is applicable,” Kynta said, adding that the concerned authorities will have to have a relook wherever codification has taken place.
He added that voting will be through secret ballots and rules should be framed in this regard.

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